A California high school’s use of an Arab mascot has drawn the ire of a rights group that says it is offensive, stereotyping Arabs as hook-nosed, bearded and angry.
Coachella Valley High School sports teams are dubbed the “Arabs”, which the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee complained in a letter to the school this month plays on harmful stereotypes.
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The group, whose leaders say they are not aware of another US school with the nickname Arab, also cited as offensive the school’s logo of an Arab, which it said was displayed in the middle of the basketball court and elsewhere at the school.
“It’s a very stereotypical logo of Arabs, it has the angry-looking Arab with the hook nose and the beard,” said Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the group.
The controversy over the Arab mascot comes as the use of ethnic team names and mascots has gained new prominence with a campaign this year to pressure the National Football League’s Washington Redskins to change their name.
American Indians and others have long pilloried the Redskins name as racist.
At the Coachella school’s sporting events, a person in an oversized mask dances and entertains the crowd as the mascot.
In its letter, the Anti-Discrimination Committee described YouTube videos of half-time shows at Coachella Valley High School sporting events that show the Arab mascot making an appearance while “a female dressed as a belly dancer entertains him.”
Ayoub said he understood that the school, which opened in 1910 and is located in the arid Coachella Valley town of Thermal, 200km southeast of Los Angeles, originally used the Arab mascot as a nod to the region’s date-growing industry, because the date palm is associated with the Middle East.
“There is an appropriate way to recognise the ties with Arabs and the Arab community, but this was not it,” Ayoub said.
Marita Rango, deputy superintendant for the school, said it was working with the rights group on the issue.